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The Centre Gallery: Batavia’s newest art space


On Sunday October 7, Batavia High School held its rededication ceremony. All afternoon, the community gathered to see the school’s first expansion in decades. Filled with curiosity, residents explored light-filled classrooms and hallways as well as the high school’s first field house, auditorium, and art gallery. Named The Centre Gallery, it displayed work by high school alumni as part of Relic, its inaugural exhibition. The graduation dates of alumni ranged widely. A good number were graduates from the last decade, but artists from the eighties and as far back as 1966 participated in the show.

Unfound Potential

Lew Girmscheid. Unfound Potential. Oil on Found Object. (Photo credit: Zachary Johnson)

Overall, it was a strong and varied display of alumni work. One piece that stood out was Unfound Potential by Lew Girmscheid, a 1986 graduate. His canvas was stretched against a skewed, rounded, rectangular frame and hung off the edges on each side. The entire piece was covered heavily in rough, but complimentary hues: swampy yellow-greens, dark greys, sky blues, warm red-oranges, yellows, and whites. Each color started at the edge of the canvas and charged towards the center. As they converged, the canvas stretched forward, forming a vague, round shape. There was tremendous energy and promise imbued in the colors’ forward motion, but in the end, they didn’t amount to very much. As all that potential pooled together into an ill-defined shape, it pushed away from the wall, as if moving in the right direction, but failed to form anything concrete. Looking at the work, I couldn’t help but think of some of the college graduates I knew. Filled with passion, skills, and knowledge, earned through life and higher education, their lives had stagnated in the real world, faced with economic obstacles and indecision. Lew, being 43 years old, most likely was inspired by different circumstances, but his representation of “unfound potential” could easily speak to people at various impasses in their lives.

Equally interesting were the pieces by those whose graduation years remained in the future. The Centre Gallery spans two floors, and student work was featured upstairs. I was particularly anxious to see what they had created, as student work was very strong when I attended Batavia High School six years ago. The school’s art program stands out in that the classes are conceptually driven. In2003, the department changed its approach to art education, transforming the traditional courses (ceramics, painting & drawing, jewelry, etc.) into their conceptual counterparts: art & society, art & philosophy, art & identity, etc. Turning the corner upstairs, I was glad to see the work remained strong. A dress made of collaged paper, a cratered canvas dangling from a found branch, a paper eyeball suspended by blood-red yarn – the manipulation of materials and visual symbolism were skilled and impressive. Seeing the work of current students and that of recent alumni in one show painted a promising picture of the art department’s ability to guide and shape young artists.

Ian Bosak

Ian Bosak (student). 2011. Mixed Media. (Photo credit: Zachary Johnson)

Overall, the inclusion of The Centre Gallery in the expansion speaks to a growing appreciation for visual art in Batavia. It started with the city’s first art festival, Art in Your Eye, in 2005. It then accelerated with Water Street Studios in 2009, a 6,000 square foot historic building which houses 28 artist studios, three classrooms, and two gallery spaces. Just last spring, the city gained its first arts council, which aims to “create an environment that is conducive to the growth and development of individual artists and organizations devoted to the arts, culture and entertainment.”

Andrea Schindlebeck, head of the high school’s art department, has ambitious plans to continue this trend through The Centre Gallery. “We have many plans for several exhibitions throughout the year, an annual professional show, an annual high school invitational show, several district shows, some smaller 2-3 artist exhibits, and hopefully an annual lecture series and some traveling shows. We are so excited to develop the gallery into a great cultural center with many activities and opportunities. It is so much more than just a gallery space for our students’ work, it’s a chance to educate, empower, and entertain. We are hoping it will be a place of great inspiration not only for our students, but for the surrounding communities.”

Living in Chicago, it can be easy to forget that supporting the arts in non-urban areas usually means starting from the ground up. In smaller communities, there may be no opportunities to view or display art at all; It takes a city-wide effort to create the kind of environment artists can flourish in. Writing this article, I was reminded of the often cited fact that every culture creates some form of visual art. For that to happen, however, the artist needs a support system. There must be a place to produce that art and a way for it to be seen by others. With a new art fair, arts council, studios spaces, and galleries, Batavia is committed to creating that system of support. This is a culture that not only creates art, but encourages it.

Relic runs through Thursday, December 1st at Batavia High School in Batavia, IL.

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